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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

New crime mapping site - impressive but with fundamental problems

The new  UK Internet Crime Mapping site was launched on Monday. It has received so many hits, reportedly 18 million an hour in the first few hours that I have had to wait until this morning before I managed to connect to the site.

I am torn between being impressed and dismayed, between thinking this is a leap in the right direction to thinking that the people who have designed this have not a clue what they are doing; between applauding the liberating of police data to castigating the fact that data without context and provenance cannot be treated as information.

First the positives.
  • Innovation and development in public services require monetary investment and risks to be taken. It requires people in power to say `yes' to ideas rather than the safe 'no'. It is the way improvements and advances are made.
  • Even though there are many problems with this site I think it should be seen leap in the right direction because it signals the acceptance of an underlying principle that the public have a right to know, in detail, what police are doing in their area through medium of police collected data.
  • Connected with that is treating the public as grown up people who are capable of dealing with the harsh realities of life. This should  lead to an understanding what the police know about the policing problems in the area thus enabling a more informed partnership between police and the public to tackle those problems.
  • The visualisation of data is new, interesting and works smoothly at various levels of resolution. Technically it is interesting; it appears to work on a grid system of squares of I estimate 50 metres by 50 metres. The point shown at the highest resolution is on a road within that grid square closest to the centre (some grid squares seem to have more than one point at the highest resolution, I think this where two distinct post codes or street name can be identified - interesting algorithm).  Everything georeferenced to a location within that grid square is shown at the point or points. The visualisation is of circles with the lowest resolution showing a circle with about a 5,000 metre diameter. As you zoom in and out the circles seamlessly change in size as the grid squares are subtracted or added. Different crimes types and antisocial behaviour counts are shown for the month of December 2010. The difficulties of counting across police borders appear to have been solved. There are links to Safer Neighbourhood Teams, with information about crime appeals, crime prevention, police Ward meetings and Neighbourhood Watch Schemes - all impressive.

I will leave the negatives which are fundamental and numerous until next time.

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